A Political History of the Idea of Economic Inequality in America
In this impassioned book, Michael J. Thompson reaches back into America's rich intellectual history to reclaim the politics of inequality from the distortion of recent American conservatism. He begins by tracing the development of the idea of economic inequality as it has been conceived by political thinkers throughout American history. Then he considers the change in ideas and values that have led to the acceptance and occasional legitimization of economic divisions. Thompson argues that American liberalism has made a profound departure from its original practice of egalitarian critique; it has all but abandoned its antihierarchical and antiaristocratic discourse. Only by resuscitating this tradition can democracy again become meaningful to Americans.
The intellectuals who pioneered egalitarian thinking in America believed political and social relations should be free from all forms of domination, servitude, and dependency. They wished to expose the antidemocratic character of economic life under capitalism and hoped to prevent the kind of inequalities that compromise human dignity and freedom--the core principles of early American politics. In their wisdom is a much broader, more compelling view of democratic life and community than we have today, and with this book, Thompson eloquently and adamantly fights to recover this crucial strand of political thought.
"This is an important and original work, subtle and sophisticated in its analysis and unique in its scope." — Philip Green, professor of political science, New School University
"Thompson provides a great service in revisiting--and reviving--the tradition of seeing extreme economic inequality and democracy as incompatible." — Daniel Brook, The Nation
"[A] sweeping intellectual history... Recommended." — CHOICE
"At a time when the term 'liberal' has been equated, mistakenly, with the values of equality, Michael J. Thompson has provided us with a necessary corrective. He shows that American political thought was, in the earlier years of the Republic, deeply concerned with restraining concentrated economic and political power in order to achieve more equality. But under the dominance of neoliberalism, political thought has lost its way, and Thompson's work can go a long way to restoring its original egalitarian impulse. This book is not only superb intellectual history but also an important intervention into contemporary debates." — Stanley Aronowitz, author of Left Turn: Forging a New Political Future and How Class Works: Power and Social Movement
Introduction. The Political Dimensions of Economic Inequality
1. The Critique of Economic Inequality in Western Political Thought: The Continuity of an Idea
2. The Liberal Republic and the Emergence of Capitalism: The Political Theories of Optimism and Radicalism
3. The Transformation of American Capitalism: From Class Antagonism to Reconciliation
4. Embracing Inequality: The Reorientation of American Democracy
Conclusion. Restating the Case for Economic Equality